Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Best of 2017

Another great year of experiences, varying from the accomplishments of those I love, some travel memories, a couple big home improvements and a personal accomplishment I’m quite proud of.


10 . Elaine Retires (Mostly)

It’s great watching my wife all cuddled under the covers in the morning instead fitting in a morning run in the dark or joining the pre-work crowd in the weight room at the YMCA. It’s wonderful that she can stay up for a Sunday or Monday night football game instead of calling it quits at halftime, or in the case of her Steelers, crawling into bed past midnight. It’s fabulous that she no longer has to commute an hour, each way, up and down I-75. While having her company relocate to Kentucky was a few months before our preferred schedule, she’s been able to consult a few hours a week at home, on her hours and terms.


9. Laurie’s Masters in Information Systems Degree

My daughter completed her year-long trek at Wright State University’s online Masters in Information Systems (MIS) degree program, fitting that into her already busy work, home, husband, pets and running life. This dad enjoyed the hooding ceremony and hearing all the accolades she earned from the faculty and capstone project staff. Me bursting with pride puts her accomplishment on my top ten list.


8. Chicago Lake & River Tour

One of several different boat tours in Chicago, the Lake & River tour starts by taking you east toward Lake Michigan. But since the water level of the lake is a few feet higher than the river, you wait in line with other commercial and recreational boats for your turn to enter the lock. When your group is loaded in, the river-side gates behind close and the lake-side gates in front slowly open a foot or two, allowing the lake water to fill the lock, slowing lifting your vessel to the lake’s level. Then the lake-side gates fully open and you’re free to sail along the beautiful Chicago coastline. A return trip down the lock continues with a narrated tour of the Chicago River and the history of many of its iconic buildings.


7. Keeneland

On the way home from an enjoyable few days in Nashville, I got to experience my first live horse race, and a gorgeous day at Keeneland, complete with a box to ourselves. Not knowing the facility, we ended up parking, fortunately, in the wrong place and a nice gentleman directed us up a hill and through the paddocks to the track, providing us a “behind the scenes” tour. Since we were there on a Thursday, the place was not overly crowded and it was easy to move around, get a drink and place a bet. My first bet of the day, on the second race, was for a long shot to win. My horse was in the lead coming down the stretch and was caught in a photo finish, so close it took several minutes to determine who won. My horse finished second. My five other bets that day, of various kinds, resulted in my horse always finishing one place out of the money. But losing forty dollars was never this much fun.


6. Coco’s On The Beach

The end of August brought a six-day trip to Hilton Head Island to stay with our friends Dan and Grace. While the first couple days saw lots of rain due to a passing hurricane, the weather gradually improved and finding a beach bar was a must. Thanks to Google Maps, we saw that Coco’s On The Beach was about a mile north of the house. We jumped in the car, drove out to the main road and followed the smartphone directions into a small group of condos, but when “we arrived” we were left on one side of a high fence with Coco’s on the other side. However, it was closed, so we regrouped the next day. More Google searching taught us that we needed to go into the Hilton timeshare, pay $5 to park and that Coco’s would deduct that from our check. Back in the car and over to the Hilton, only to find Coco’s wasn’t open that day due to the weather. Back at the house, I walked the mile up the beach, determined to find Coco’s as I didn’t see it while running a few days prior. You can almost blink and miss the narrow opening, but I found it and the four of us walked up the beach the next day for lunch and a drink, and a powerful rum drink it was. While their tagline, “Finding us is half the fun!”, is no doubt true, it’s such a cool place that my only regret is only having one lunch there. Guess a return trip will be in order.


5. Steelers/Bears at Soldier Field

I’ve been to a few professional football games, normally parked high up in a corner or over the goal posts, but September’s trip to Chicago included tickets to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the hometown Bears on a gorgeous sunny day. The group had two sets of tickets, so we watched one half from one set and then swapped. For the first half of the game we sat on the 50-yard line, about a dozen rows from the field. From that vantage point the game changes. The players are faster, bigger and you’re pulled into the action on a very personal level. You feel the collisions, the efforts of the player and how quickly one play leads to the next. It was almost a relief to watch the second half from a calmer viewpoint, but if you’re a fan, treat yourself some day and sit down low. Football will never feel the same again.


4. Jake’s Amish Furniture

When the kitchen was remodeled we had a wall shortened and the cabinet on that wall was now too wide and was showing its age. We looked for a suitable replacement but nothing was quite what we wanted. On the advice of our dentist, we traveled up to Amish country in central Ohio and visited Jake’s. We explained what we had in mind and over the course of two hours designed the perfect custom cabinet, just over six feet tall split into two sections by a pullout butler tray, three shelves above and two below. We selected ash for the wood and a dark stain for the finish, hoping it would match the kitchen table. It took about three months to be manufactured and then I picked it up using our Jeep Grand Cherokee, used lots of padding to avoid nicks and rope to hold down the hatch, the cabinet being, of course, about two inches too long. All the effort and waiting paid off and our heirloom cabinet looks gorgeous at the intersection of the living room, dining room and kitchen. And perfectly matches the kitchen table.


3. Dorothy Lane Market Cooking School

We took four cooking classes this year, Entertaining Dinner for Easter, Italian Al Fresco, Crazy for Tomatoes and Chicken Alfredo, all from Mary Cooney. These were roll-up-your-sleeves classes for a dozen or more couples and we ate the fruits of our labors. We picked up so many recipes and so many cooking tips that we continue to use. The food we made was absolutely delicious, so it felt like both a class and a 5-star dinner, two for the price of one. Plans are already in place to continue classes into the new year.


2. New Marble Bathroom

The final room of the house in need of a serious makeover was the second floor bathroom. We contracted with Jason Best who gutted everything, removed the iron bathtub and replaced it with a custom walk-in that seems to have doubled the shower size. We selected beautiful blue and gray marble tile and a matching medium blue paint. Much needed insulation was added, a ceiling vent installed and hot halogen lights replaced with cool LEDs. An elongated, and slighted taller, toilet, with a slow-close lid rounded out the major improvements. It is simply stunning.


1. 1,004 Miles Run

I’ve been a runner since I was 17 years old and have run enough miles over my years to make it around the world twice, but I haven’t run one thousand miles in a single year since 2006, and nowhere near that in recent years. But part of my retirement planning is to be in shape when I retire, figuring with all that time on my hands I need to be in shape to fully enjoy it. I started the year with a goal of 630 miles with a stretch goal of 800. After running 201 miles in the first three months, the stretch goal became the new goal, but after clocking in 420 miles halfway through the year, 1,000 miles started to creep in as a possibility, but that would take a serious step up in effort and consistency. 307 miles in the third quarter left me with 273 miles to a thousand. October was another hundred mile month, reducing the remainder to 173, but the time change in November eliminates most evening runs and dropped that month’s mileage to 82, leaving 91 for December. I committed myself, finding ways to get more runs in and finally, a 5 mile run on December 29th put me over one thousand and I closed the year with a New Year’s Eve run to finish with 1,004.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Then The Party Really Starts

Several times a year my wife and I travel to Pittsburgh to visit her family and friends. There is a rhythm to these visits and usually begins with a party the first night. Several hours of catching up on events in everyone's lives while each enjoys their favorite beverage, which in most cases is a popular American beer. The fun continues for hours and then around 10:30 to 11:00 pm, the crowd thins out.

And then the party really starts.

Always with this proclamation.

“I'm having my Capper”.

This sounds like just one more and then I'm going to bed. In reality it's a signal that the first of many will be popped open. I think at the time they really mean it, it's really their intention to be “one and done”. Just never works out that way. And I've learned that capper is actually plural. No 's’ is needed. Like moose.

A little while later, when the capper is gone, out comes the second phrase of the drinking dance.

“Would you like to share a Splitter?”.

This is intended to sound like things are really starting to slow down. They'll each just have half a can. Then they try to decide what they like in common, so they could actually share one. Back and forth a few times and no agreement is reached, which is not unexpected since they don't like the same thing in the first place. So they each decide to have a full one instead. Just not quite ready to call it quits.

Actually, far from it.

Then after that two, or more, beer introduction, all pretense is cast aside and the sound of pop tops popping becomes more frequent. I think it's like a second beer wind. And it's a brisk tailwind indeed.

While no more excuses are made, there are a few words that describe the action.

“Topper”

This is pouring just a little beer into the bottom of your glass, making it look like you're close to the finish line. I think it's more like serving small portions to children to get them to eat more. They can sneak up on their livers and it won't know what's coming.

“Slammer”

Somewhere along this real party timeline a beer will quickly disappear, or get slammed. Similar to eating quickly allows you to eat more, slamming a beer overcomes the stomach's desire to cut you off.

“Shooter”

Inevitably somebody has to suggest a shooter, perhaps a Little Beer, Little Guinness or some Irish Whiskey. This has to be well-timed, situated after the Capper and Splitter to gain everyone's agreement that it's a good idea, but before the later stages when they know the true end is near. Timing is everything.

“Sipper”

Usually occurring after the Shooter, people start taking little sips of beer, stretching out the evening that they're enjoying more than ever.

“Cougher”

My favorite, it’s a clever way of disguising that you’re opening yet another can of beer, perhaps a bit too quickly, so you synchronize a cough as you’re pulling the tab. Done well, and frankly this group has had a fair amount of practice, you can completely muffle the “tssst”.

“Hammer”

Part of what fuels the evening is having enough people that it's impossible for everyone to finish their beer at the same time. You've just finished yours and you notice someone else has just started another, so of course you open another one too. Not to would be considered rude. But the end has to come, so one or two people do the group one final favor and they hammer down their nearly full can. Bless them.

“Quitter” and “Goner”

Someone's going to be found sleeping on a coach, upright, during the latter stages of the party. If they've left beer in their can, it's a quitter. If they finished it, it was a goner, the one that took them down.

Finally, good nights are exchanged and the party is concluded.

When morning comes, it begins with an equally predictable proclamation.

“We're not doing that again tonight!”.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Rights and Mistakes

I don’t get all that caught up on words, at least not until I hear people use them improperly for their own gain or avoid blame. The two that drive me the craziest are “rights” and “mistakes”, and I’ll describe what I think they mean and why other people want so much to use them improperly.

To qualify as a “right”, in my book, means two things. First, we all can, equally, have the same right. Your right to them does not, in any way, impinge on me or anyone else having the same right. Free speech is a good example. We each can have it and use it without infringing on the other’s exercise of that right. Second, rights do not involve money. I don’t have to pay to have free speech and I’m not required to pay for yours. It’s really a specific case of rule number one, but since so many improper uses of “rights” involve money being taken away from one party and given, or used, to provide the “right” to another, I think it helps clarify my definition. In my definition, health care and education are not rights. They are arguably moral obligations, but that’s a big difference. With a right you don’t have to qualify and you don’t have to oblige anything back, it simply yours, pure and simple. It’s no wonder that proponents of any given “give-away” program want to qualify it as a “right” instead of a good idea or the proper thing to do. Furthermore, taking away someone’s rights is very serious business. Putting someone in jail or drafting them into the armed forces are examples of necessary situations that require suspending someone’s right of life, liberty or free speech. Check out our Bill of Rights and you will find rights like freedom of speech, religion, assembly, search and self-incrimination. These fit my definition of a right. I find knowing the difference between a right and those “false rights”, however well-intentioned, keeps my moral compass pointed to the truth.

Also commonly misused is “mistake”. We all make them all the time. Perhaps you meant to add sugar to your coffee and grabbed the salt instead. That’s a mistake in my book. Using salt was not your intention, you really meant to use sugar. Some mistakes like this are caused by lack of attention, some by being in too much of a hurry or trying to multi-task. Contrast that with a teenager who steals a pack of cigarettes and Mom says “oh, she just made a mistake”. Really, that was the mistake? Did she mean to steal some chewing gum and grabbed the wrong thing? More like “she didn’t think she would get caught” would be the truth about the mistake made. The stealing was a choice, but not a mistake. Most people learn right from wrong at a very early age, openly displaying what they know is right and hiding what they know is wrong. But “mistake” is used instead of “choice” because it avoids placing blame and declaring fault, and then dealing with the ensuing drama and conflict. It would be much more accurate to say “kids are going to make some bad choices”, acknowledging they have more to learn about life and how we treat each other instead of closing our eyes to reality.

It’s easy to understand why these powerful words, “rights” and “mistakes”, are used inappropriately, but I won’t fall for it. If we’re to face problems in our families, communities and nation, we have to deal with these difficult conversations truthfully and not hide behind the wrong words.



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Balance Is Hard

Achieving a life “in balance”, with all those things you need and want flowing together in perfect proportion, would leave you feeling accomplished on all those things that matter to you the most. Yet it appears that many of us, and certainly for me at times, fail brilliantly at this, leaving us stressed, unhappy and feeling like a failure. Why is something so desirable, healthy and self-gratifying so difficult to get right? I have some opinions on that and some suggestions that may help.

Balance is not one-size-fits-all but the exact opposite, a unique blend, custom fit for you, your desires and situation. But have you defined your “balance”, or just hoping that life will deliver it as the result of all the choices, good and bad, you make throughout the day? As they say, “a failure to plan is a plan to fail”. Like writing this article, you have to decide what goes in and what gets left out, and the left out part is really tough to figure out. Balance would be easy if there were unlimited minutes in your day or you had just enough activities. The first certainly isn’t true and rarely is the second. You need to come up with your desired end-state and compare that with where you are today. Figure out what to give up, what to add and the steps needed to get there. I doubt that’s straight line and pretty sure you will revisit your choices early and often. Balance doesn’t mean finding one blend and sticking to it forever. Shaking up your balance every so often is necessary to keeping it in balance. At least it is for me.

There are a number of “positive” reasons for getting out of balance. We like being “givers”, unselfishly donating our time to others in pursuit of their activities. It gives us pleasure to say “yes” and that’s really easy to do if it’s a future event and not an immediate request. We’re passionate about our causes, our faith and our families. Smiles and thank you’s are wonderful outcomes and we like to think we gave it our all. We like being busy, but busy and balance are very different things. Being a Type A, I like being busy, and feeling accomplished as a result, most of the time. But balance for me is being busy on the right things in the right proportion over the right time frame. As a friend of mine quite accurately stated, “When we work, we work hard and when we play, we play hard. And when we stop, we fall asleep”. Sums up my balance plan very well.

Then there are the “negatives” that drag us into a doom loop to imbalance. Thinking we have to explain and justify each decision, defend why you said “No” to this and “Yes” to that and listening to the whining and complaining and “That’s not fair!” that ensues. It’s easy in the short term to say “Yes” to everyone, avoid the arguments and give ourselves fully to other’s demands and desires. And this just adds fuel the next round, knowing you will give in with enough “persuasion”. Our own passions also get in our way, wanting only the best for our children, wanting to be more successful at work or seen as the pillar of faith at our place of worship. I’m certainly the type that can “be my own worst enemy”, always looking at how to do something better or quicker. Taming the internal beast, saying “No” to yourself is every bit as difficult as telling others the same thing.

My advice starts with another saying I’ve carried for years, “Everything in moderation, including moderation”. Life, and balance, isn't always about a little of this and a little of that, but I include those things that take too much time and effort, but only once in awhile. If you equate balance with boredom, you’re still out of balance. Indulge at times or give a project your all, then work back to towards your target. Balance is more a long term goal than a daily quest. Balance is fluid, changes with the seasons and with your mood. Take a break, start a new hobby, give up an old one, shake things up, then settle things down.

“No is a complete sentence”.  It truly really is, and it’s advice you should learn well. You do not have to give reasons, you don’t have to negotiate and you don’t have to even talk about it. Use it sparingly, but use it when the “persuasion” mounts and you’ve already made your decision. Let them whine, just tell them to do it elsewhere. Like the freedom of speech, you have the freedom not to listen.

My final advice is to have a to-do list that never gets completed, but just gets added to, crossed off, rewritten and prioritized over and over. Get used to not getting it all done because there’s always something that needs done. But getting the right things done in the time available will reduce stress and eliminate the feeling that everything on the list is equally important and that it doesn’t matter what gets done. If an item stays on the list too long, cross it off. New items don’t have to go on the bottom, it just might be the new number one . Don’t make your to-do list into a wishlist, keep those separate. Keep a bucket list for the big wishes. I have so many lists, I should probably have a list of lists. But that’s just me.

I hope one or two of these can help you on your journey to balance, if that’s indeed your destination, as it is mine.






Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Retirement Resume

Am I qualified to retire? Do I have what it takes?

I’ll reflect here as retirement being the next job I desire to obtain and give it a job description, that list of required and desired qualifications that the perfect candidate would possess to be successful, and that stack that up against an honest self-assessment.

The most obvious qualification, and maybe the hardest one to quantify, is having the financial resources, since this new job doesn’t pay anything, sort of like being a full-time volunteer. For most people, retirement will bring a reduced monthly paycheck delivered by some combination of pensions, 401(k), IRA, investments, savings and Social Security. So the real question here is not how much is available, but can you change your spending habits to match. It’s a real boost if you don’t have a house payment or other large loans, or have children “still on the payroll”, but ultimately the question, and hence the qualification, becomes can you balance your spending with your resources without draining them too quickly.

I believe I’ll be qualified financially in the very near future. Frankly, I’ve lived at times in my life, quite happily in fact, on far less than I’ll have in retirement. I can dial it back as needed and expect to have more time to look for opportunities to save on monthly expenses. But honestly, short of working until I die, this is really a matter of timing and delaying retirement until I have no choice or having a little more to spend just isn’t worth the benefits of this new job, like sleeping in and slowing down. And naps. Really looking forward to naps.

A big qualification for this retirement job, and one that holds many people back, is filling your days. The average paying job requires a minimum of 40 hours of actual work time in a week, but adding in waking up, showering, shaving, getting dressed, commuting to and commuting from an office stretches that 8 hours per day into 11-12 hours. Add at least an hour to prepare, eat and cleanup after dinner, plus 8 hours of sleep and the average time to fill with other activities during a work day is about 2 hours. That’s not nearly enough, so lots of chores get moved to the weekend to fill that time up. Do you have, or can you expect to build, enough interesting and fulfilling things to do on a daily basis to prevent you from giving up your self-directed retirement in favor of a boss that will tell you what to do with your time?

I believe I’m qualified to fill my days. I will spend quite a bit of it outdoors, continuing my lifelong running and walking habits, playing golf, skiing and exploring. In looking back at my childhood, when I also had looks of time to fill, I was an avid reader and look forward to returning to that. I have lots of movies to watch I’ve never seen before. I have lots of blogs to write, TED videos to watch, a love of cooking that feeds my love of eating and little house improvement projects. I’m also fortunate that my paying job for the last 40+ years has been in computing, and unlike an accounting or management career, I can continue to dabble in tech. I might even build that “one remote control to rule all devices” I promised my wife ten years ago. But most of all I believe I can dial back my type A personality and just slow down my pace.

Any applicant desiring this coveted retirement position should have the qualification of being in good health. Sitting at a desk all day long gets replaced with lots of activities, and good physical fitness entering retirement will improve both the financial aspects and filling the days. Waiting for retirement to begin that process is like saying you’ll quit cigarettes next week. Can you really expect to reverse a life of coach-potatoing and bad habits when you start in your sixties?

I’m certainly qualified health-wise. I’m on pace to run over 800 miles this year and since the age of seventeen have run nearly 40,000 miles. I take no medications and my heart rate and blood pressure are stellar. I have a few pounds I’d like to lose and retirement will give me more opportunities to exercise, especially walking and golfing.

I have no doubt retirement will be a great and fulfilling job, that I’m well-qualified and that I’m up for the challenge. I’ve been preparing a long time and the closer it gets, the more excited I become. Please hire me!


Monday, May 29, 2017

Beyond Really Tired

Everyone has those times, probably too often, where they were really, really tired.  I recall working 36 hours straight for the final weekend of a data center migration, staying up all night with my girlfriend before taking a college entrance exam and trips to Europe that combine jet lag with serious sleep deprivation. I’m sure we’ve all had that Sunday afternoon where we plopped ourselves on a coach knowing a nap was a few seconds away. And then there is just about every Monday morning, prying ourselves out of bed to face the work week, already knowing we need at least two cups of coffee to cope.

But being “sleepy tired” doesn’t compare with the “totally exhausted” we get when we’ve pushed our bodies beyond the unreasonable, barely able to speak, much less move.  The kind of special tired that physically lasts for days and mentally for months. Here’s my top three, in ascending order from “easiest” to “hardest”.  Simple recalling these to write them down is mentally grueling. But I have time and a comfy couch, so here we go.

I attempted three marathons (26.2 miles) races in my 30’s, completing just one. A marathon is the only race where the question is “Will I finish?” instead of “How fast will I go today?”.  Back in my 150 pound days, running 16 miles was a chore, but not the end of the day, and beyond 16 things became increasingly “not fun”.  The marathon I finished was on a beautiful October day, getting up to 77 degrees under bright sunshine.  That’s about 20 degrees warmer than a beautiful marathoning day.  The pack started out from downtown Columbus, heading north toward The Ohio State University for the first of three loops. After a few miles I noticed that I was in a pack running 7 ½ minute miles, which I knew was too fast for me, but I was just floating along, so I went with it. At the thirteen mile mark I began to realize what a mistake that was and slowed down a bit. Then the thought entered my head that I was only halfway done and had an entire half-marathon ahead of me. I also realized I was feeling the symptoms of dehydration. We headed down the shortest loop, south through German Village. I really started to slow down and began to walk at the water stops, getting two cups of water and carefully drinking it all before running again.  The stops were 1 ½ miles apart and I went from “starting to feel better” after drinking to “I can’t make it” before getting to the next one. That went on from 14 miles to the 20 mile mark, which included having to make the decision of entering the final loop, out to Bexley and back, the final “point of no easy return”. The exhaustion experienced when you’re not close to being done combined with not knowing if you will finish is as much mental as physical, and you’re hammered from both sides. To this day I don’t know how I made it through those six miles. But at the 20 mile mark I not only had “just” 6.2 miles to go, but at that point I knew I could make it. With the mental cloud out of the way, I just needed to make these last miles, and do so very carefully, as runners were off the side of the road, cramping or just “out of gas”, began to become all too common. I made those last miles at a slow but steady pace and crossed the finish line thinking to myself that it felt like I had been running my entire life and this was the first I had ever stopped. I walked, more like limped, back to my car and back to Dayton, used my arms to extract me out of the car, made it to the couch and sat there like I was in a coma while my son’s birthday party began, which I remember little of. I expected that I would not run for a couple days and then resume my usual routine. But the mental exhaustion lasted far further than the physical and it took weeks before I could back back out on a regular basis. That memory, that feeling, is still here to this day.

Next up is the weekend I helped put a new roof on my then mother-in-law’s house. As bad luck would have it, that weekend brought bright sunshine with the temperature in the 90’s, not really what you want when perched on black shingles. Five middle-aged guys attacked the job Saturday morning by taking off the old roof, which had already had been shingled over, so two layers would have to be removed.  Until we got to another section that had three layers. Each shingle required pulling at least two, and often more, nails using the claw end of a hammer, then pitching the shingle off the roof. Over and over until our arms could hardly move. As the sun reached higher and hotter in the sky, we hydrated ourselves with large bottles of Gatorade, three an hour, with no need for a bathroom break. By dinner time we were all shot and came down from the roof even though some shingles still remained, which would just have to wait until Sunday morning.  Not to mention we still had to put the new singles on. I wish I had a picture of how bad I looked as I tried to munch down some dinner.  Sticky bits of black tar from the shingles covered all of us and we all were just beat down. Sunday morning came too soon and three of the guys physically couldn’t get themselves out of bed, leaving the daunting job to my brother-in-law and myself. Fortunately my brother-in-law worked for a roofing company and one of the real roofing guys helped out for a couple hours. This guy was amazing! Hammer flying, the remaining shingles literally flew off the roof in no time. He got us started on the new roof with the two of us barely able to keep up with feeding him shingles as he lined them up and popped them a few times with a power nailer.  But that was a huge shot of adrenaline as progress was fast and furious. After he sadly had to leave, we finished the roof at our much slower pace. Going to work Monday morning felt so good, just to sit in front of my computer, in my air-conditioned office and not having to move muscles that wouldn’t have moved if I had asked them, nicely or not.

Now we come to the worst of the worst. Or the best of the worst.  Whichever, I shiver every time I recall this one.

I signed up for a 14 mile trail run at Caesar Creek State Park, not an imposing amount of miles and I’ve run on trails many times. The course was a seven mile loop in one direction, returning back to the starting area before continuing on in a different direction with a second seven mile loop. Off we stormed into the woods where we quickly discovered these trails were never straight, were filled with roots and about wide enough for two people if they each turned sideways as they passed. And the promised loop was really an out and back, so after a few miles the leaders were flying back towards us on the too-narrow trail. Only once, as I had to look up to make sure I didn’t collide with an oncoming runner, did I lose focus on the path and its roots, resulting in a face first splat to the muddy ground. For the entire race I rarely got more than a few strides in rhythm, constantly changing direction to stay on the path, avoid the roots and dodge the runners. After the first seven miles I was pretty tired and gave a couple thoughts to calling it quits halfway. But I convinced myself that the second half couldn’t continue the same arduous course layout and I decided to make a go of it. This bad assumption led to a bad decision, and the second seven miles were every bit as bad. At the ten mile mark I was spent, exhausted with four miles to go. I don’t know how, and I just as soon not remember, I made it back. I do remember the feeling of panic and knowing I had to leave, get in my car and head home. I had to get out of there. Not sit and rest, not lay down and recover, no, I had to escape that place as if my life depended on it. Too tired to think. I stumbled to my car, got out of dodge and vowed never to run that race again.








Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Best of 2016

2016 was another memorable year of experiences with over forty items accumulated. As usual, it’s easy to pick the top few, and the best of the best is usually not in much doubt, but this year the top two, each a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and each provided by one of my children, was as close to a coin flip as I can remember. So I punted, and this year there is a tie at the top! I really can’t decide. Both were incredible! Thank you Mike and Laurie!

The last one in is always a most difficult choice, leaving a couple worthy experiences on the proverbial cutting room floor. So starting with lucky number ten, here’s the best of 2016.

10. The Lion King at The Schuster Center

I might have been one of the very few attending The Lion King that had no idea what the play was about (except something to do with lions), but at least I knew most of the words to the songs. The performance was brilliantly choreographed, turning the stage into a huge African landscape where Simba flees in disgrace, grows up and triumphantly returns to claim his rightful crown and place in the Circle of Life.

9. Irish Coffee at Sam’s Social Club Around the Fire

Located at the Indian Springs Spa (more on that below), Sam’s is a bar/restaurant with a large, circular, outdoor gas firepit which at least a dozen chairs can comfortably fit around. After a day of wine exploration and dinner, we spent several evenings as the temperature began to cool sitting around the fire conversing with people and enjoying Irish Coffee, made with Equator coffee, Jameson and a couple dollops of the most delicious freshly whipped cream.

8. Dayton School of Medical Massage

I’ve been to this school several times in the past but the visit this October delivered unexpected and amazing results. The masseuse asked if I had any particular problem areas and I told her that the lower right part of my back had a “stitch” in it for years and that I regularly go to a chiropractor to help manage it, but it’s never gone away. She began exploring that area, found the tightness and worked on it for several minutes until she worked it out. I left that appointment without a trace of that old familiar discomfort, and it’s not returned. A minor miracle, delivered by a student, now later in life, working on her next career. Incredible! She will go far.

7. Walk Along the Scenic Road in Carmel

I’ve been to Carmel a dozen times, but it took a breakfast conversation with the owners at Friar Tuck’s to learn about walking Scenic Road, which starts at the bottom of the Ocean Avenue hill, just before Carmel Sunset Beach. Walking south you have the Pacific Ocean on the right and multi-million dollar homes perched on the left, facing the setting sun, and each unique and beautifully landscaped. A few had wavy roofs, at least that’s the best way to describe them.

6. Indian Springs Resort and Spa Mineral Pool

The city of Calistoga was home base for our wine exploration, focused on discovering new Pinot Noirs, and Indian Springs is an old-style resort built by Sam Brannan in 1861. The olympic-sized pool is fed from an adjacent natural geyser, with water spewing every few seconds at 230 degrees Fahrenheit, then cooled before reaching the pool at 100 degrees. It’s basically a really large hot tub you can swim in. It only takes a few minutes to walk to downtown Calistoga to get groceries at Calmart, lunch on fish tacos at Palisades Deli Cafe or wander through the variety of specialty shops. Mornings included jogging through Calistoga’s neighborhoods, with maturing grapes on rows of front-yard vines, utilizing every available space in prime wine country.

5. The U.S. Open at Oakmont

It was quite the shock when I discovered that it’s possible to buy single day tickets to a major golf tournament. This year’s U.S. Open was played just outside of Pittsburgh at the Oakmont Country Club, so it was a no-brainer to scoop up tickets for the Saturday round. After major rain storms in the days before, Saturday was sunny and beautiful and the golf course in excellent shape. We watched the top pros battle narrow fairways and slick greens, frequently seeing what appeared to be great approach shots ever so slowly roll ten or more yards off the green, then followed by a great chip shot and par-saving putt. These guys are phenomenal.

4. Iron Horse Vineyards

We visited about a dozen wineries during our five-day stay in Napa Valley and most were beautiful buildings with gorgeous views, but the one that topped them all was Iron Horse. We had asked a number of people where to go to taste champagne, named sparkling wine in the U.S., and everyone named Iron Horse as their top choice. Iron Horse is located in the Green Valley appellation within the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, on acres of gentle rolling hills at the end of a one-lane road. Tasted a variety of sparklers and stared at the scenery in the late afternoon sunshine. Serenity at its best.

3. Lady Antebellum

We attended several concerts at The Fraze Pavilion in 2016, all good, but Lady Antebellum was over-the-top excellent. There are not many concerts where standing the entire time is OK with me, and this was that rare exception. Starting with their hit “Downtown” and including all their hits like “Just A Kiss”, “American Honey”, “Bartender” and “Need You Now”, Lady Antebellum is a high-energy trip and the entire band gets into it. The 4,000+ people in the audience joined in a chorus of “ABC’s” with Eisele Tyrrell, the three-year-old daughter of lead singer Hillary Scott and husband/drummer Chris Tyrrell. It was Eisele’s first ever stage appearance and the crowd applauded widely.

1 (tie). Flying a Helicopter

My daughter bought me a gift certificate to Cloud 9 Living and my selection was taking a helicopter lesson which included a half-hour ride and some solo piloting, of course with a certified instructor (Matt) that monitored everything and could take over in a split second. After about forty-five minutes introducing how helicopters function, the purpose of the overhead and tail blades, how to control motion horizontally and vertically, and plenty of safety training, Matt pulled the small, two-seater out of the hanger and towed it to a take-off pad. After performing a thorough outside review and then the inside pre-flight checklist, Matt fired up the engines and we waited while the engines came up to operating speed. We checked over our right shoulder to make sure all was clear and Matt lifted off and moved over to the runway. It what I can only describe as a “Superman Moment”, Matt gunned it forward, then banked right as we climbed. No fear, just the rush of flight as the ground fell away. It was probably the coolest feeling I’ve ever experienced. Once up to our flying altitude and positioned over a highway to follow, I got to fly for about ten minutes, following one highway, then another. After we began our way back to the Batavia airport, Matt demonstrated how a helicopter can glide down without engine power. Disengaging the motor, the helicopter began a gentle, and eerily quiet, decent towards an open field. Matt explained that in an actual emergency landing he would get close to the ground with the helicopter pitched forward, then pull backwards to stop the forward motion a few feet off the ground. The final second you’re a rock, but hopefully an alive rock. Re-engaging power, we continued back to the airport and all the sudden we pitched right, then pitched left, the scariest moment (for me) of the flight. Matt pointed to a couple birds that had passed by and emphasized the importance of avoiding them. Now back at the airport we hovered over an open field and Matt had me practice trying to hold the helicopter in place about 20-30 feet above the ground. This is much harder than it would appear, and the 10-15 mph wind made it an even greater challenge for this first-timer. Finally Matt took over, moved us back across the runway to the pad and landed as light as a feather. The guy is good!

1 (tie). The Ohio State University vs Michigan Football Game

My son bought season tickets for the OSU football games and offered me the chance to go to the traditional, regular-season-ending rivalry game versus Michigan at “The Shoe” in Columbus. Little did I know in August that OSU would be ranked #2, Michigan #3 and the game would likely decide which team would make the four-team College Football Playoffs. We made it to Columbus by 8:00 am for plenty of pre-game tailgating before the noon kickoff, enjoying several hot Fireball Apple Cider’s to stay warm, listening to music at the outdoor HineyGate and well positioned on the main way as Urban Meyer and the team made its way to the stadium. We were part of the record crowd of 110,045 fans as Ohio State took an early 7-3 lead, only to give up two touchdowns to fall behind 17-7 and not looking sharp. But the defense stepped up their game and a late third quarter touchdown left them trailing 17-14 entering the final quarter. A missed chip-shot field goal, Durbin’s second of the day, with seven minutes to go left the crowd stunned. But a three-and-out gave OSU one more chance from their own 18 with 5 ½ minutes on the clock. They made it an even deeper hole following a 6 yard sack on the first play of the drive. OSU got traction at that point, JT Barrett and crew passing and running down to the field before sputtering in the final two minutes and lining up for a potential tying field goal, another chip shot that had the crowd praying and hiding their faces, waiting for the either the thunderous explosion of enjoyment or the bitter quiet of defeat. The explosion was heard and we headed to overtime, the first ever since overtime started in 1996. OSU got the ball first, at the opposite side of the stadium we were sitting, and took only two plays, the first by Samuel and the touchdown by Barnett to take their first lead since the first quarter. Michigan responded with a fourth-and-goal 5-yard touchdown pass. They switched ends of the field, now directly in front of us, and Michigan got the ball first in the second overtime. The Buckeyes limited them to a field goal on another three-and-out stop. With Michigan leading by three, Ohio State made a first down on fourth-and-one on a controversial spot by the referees, but I saw it and it was the proper spot! On the final play, Samuel sprinted around left end for the game winning touchdown and a 30-27 victory! The place went nuts and tens of thousands of fans stormed the field in joyous celebration! An instant classic!